“Faith isn’t something you can see from the outside.”

A Visit with Sister Katharina at Karmel Berlin

Transparent bust wearing a black veil.

Sister Katharina donated this veil to us for our exhibition; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Katharina Erbe.

Covering one’s head has almost entirely disappeared from Christian women’s devotional practice. In Germany, you only actually see veils on the sisters of Catholic religious orders. In preparing for the exhibition Cherchez la femme (more about it on our website) we all agreed early on that we wanted a nun’s veil.

So I set out for Karmel Regina Martyrum in the northern part of Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, a convent of Discalced (or Barefoot) Carmelites. The convent’s wardrobe mistress, Sister Katharina, greeted me at the door. After some discussion, her view on the matter emerged as fairly sober: some people may ascribe specific spiritual meaning to certain items of clothing but it was very personal issue. In any one community you can meet with a wide variety of attitudes and practices.

Our conversation about the meaning of their religious dress began with Sister Katharina sharing an anecdote:  continue reading


“Searching for the familiar in an alien setting”

Workshops for young refugees

Two boys writing their names on T-shirts

Whether in Hebrew, Arabic, or German, there are lots of ways to write one’s name; photo: private

What’s written in a Jewish marriage contract? As a minority, how do you secure your civil rights? And why is Hanukkah celebrated for eight days? My work as a guide at the Jewish Museum isabout how to coax stories from objects on display — but also about language. The first thing I did when I began working here about four years ago was to look up how to say “ruminants with cloven hooves” in French. You need to have this phrase at the ready if you want to explain Jewish dietary laws to a group of French museum visitors. My French didn’t help much, however, when I led the first workshops in August of 2016 for Welcome Classes.  continue reading


“This four-minute performance means three to four months of training”

Logo der Jewrovision 2017“Jewrovision”, the largest singing and dancing competition for Jewish youth in Europe, will take place this year for the 16th time. Last year an audience of over 2,000 gathered at the Rose Garden Hall in Mannheim, accompanying the brilliant stage show produced by youth centers with frenetic applause. It’s hard to imagine that Jewrovision 2002 was just one of a number of evening programs at a Jewish recreational camp called Machané. Back then, at a recreational center in Bad Sobernheim (not far from Frankfurt), six groups from various cities appeared on a stage just three yards wide. Today, only 15 years later, there are 18 teams presenting their multi-media performances on enormous stages in much larger venues. An extraordinary development.  continue reading